Our Colonial Militias Did Not Carry AK-47s and AR-15s.

The part of North America known as the United States has long had a gun culture. It’s one of our oddities that makes people from other countries shake their heads and wonder why we’re so gun-crazy. I’ve never liked this aspect of our character, but there you are; it’s enshrined in the 2nd Amendment to our Constitution, which reads (as almost everyone knows):

 A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Is the first part of that amendment about a well-regulated militia the most important, or the second part about the peoples’ right to keep and bear arms? Who knows? Who can say for sure what the adopters of that amendment in 1791 really understood it to mean.

In fact, the who, what, where, when, why, and how of this amendment have been debated so long and so heatedly that even I, as a long-time gun control advocate, am thoroughly sick of it. I do wish James Madison, who drafted the amendment, would have done us all a favor by being just a little more specific.

And there is this: There was good reason for the 2nd Amendment when it was added to the Constitution. The infant United States had only just won independence in 1783 from a Great Britain that had, among many other tyrannies, repeatedly tried to disarm the colonists to prevent their rebellion. When the Constitution was drafted in 1787 there was still great suspicion and distrust of a strong central government imposing its will upon the states and their individual citizens.

That is why Article I of the Constitution established the Congress and its powers, and Article II established the office of the Presidency and its powers. Congress’ duty is to enact the laws; the President’s duty is to see they are well and faithfully executed. Although George Washington was so revered after the war that some people wanted him to be an American King, the Constitutional framers intended the United States President to be subordinate to the United States Congress, not a supreme ruler over it, as in Great Britain.

Back to the 2nd Amendment: It was one of ten amendments added to the Constitution before it was ratified by the states in 1791. The purpose of these amendments was to protect those rights of individual citizens that had been abrogated under British rule, and that many citizens feared might still be abrogated under a too-strong central government. Twelve amendments were offered to the states for ratification; ten of the twelve were approved and added to the Constitution as the Bill of Rights.

In District of Columbia v. Heller, 2008, the United States Supreme Court ruled the 2nd Amendment does give individual citizens, not just members of the military, the right to own guns. So there you have it: Until and unless some future Supreme Court reverses that ruling, individual gun ownership in the United States is constitutionally protected.

But here’s what’s different today from when the Constitution and its first 10 Amendments were ratified in 1791:

In 1791 the United States had only a small standing army, with state militias providing the bulk of common defense. All able-bodied males in each state were considered militia members.

Militia members provided their own weapons. In 1791, that weapon was a single-shot, muzzle-loading smooth bore musket that initially took about a minute to load, and twenty seconds thereafter to reload. The smooth bore musket was notoriously inaccurate. It also discharged a great deal of black smoke as it fired. That is why armies stood and fired at each other in ranks at close range.

A rifle musket was also available, which had grooves inside the barrel to guide the bullet. It improved accuracy but took longer to load. It was used primarily by snipers and other individual marksmen, while the infantry carried the smooth bore musket. The most either of these weapons could fire was three rounds a minute.

In 1791, a state militia member could use a musket not only in war or for personal protection, but also to hunt game for food, if that was necessary. The United States was still an agrarian and frontier nation, and for many families, hunting was necessary.

Today, the United States has a large standing army, state militias have become national guard units attached to the states, regular army and national guard members do not buy their own weapons, there is no requirement to belong to either the army or a national guard, and not that many people still have to go hunting to put food on their tables. (Although many people still like to hunt, but that’s a different topic.)

Also today, in contrast to 1791, armies no longer use single-shot muskets. They use automatic assault rifles, such as the AK-47, which can fire 600 rounds a minute. A semi-automatic cousin, the AR-15, can fire 30-45 rounds a minute. Both rifles are designed to kill a lot of people very quickly. That makes them good choices for armies at war, but not particularly good choices for civilians hunting game if you hope to have anything left of your game after you kill it.

It is legal in the United States to own a fully automatic rifle such as the AK-47 if it was manufactured before 1986. If you can find one, you can buy it. If the AK-47 you find was manufactured after 1986, too bad; it is illegal for you to own it.

Fear not, though: you can go into a gun store and, as long as you pass the gun store’s required background check, you can buy an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle that will look almost like an AK-47 and do almost as much damage. If you fail the store’s background check you can still buy that AR-15 at a gun show or from a friend, with no background check required. Or you might be able to score an AK-47 on the black market, if that’s your mass killing weapon of choice.

It’s estimated there are 5 to 10 million AR-15s in the United States, within a broader total of 300 million guns for a population of 327.2 million. That’s a lot of fire power and a lot of gun culture for a country that doesn’t now require military service.

So this is where we are with the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution, guaranteeing the right of individual gun ownership. We are just chock-full of guns all over the country.

I do wonder if, in 1791, instead of single-shot muskets that could kill at most three people a minute, the state militias had carried AK-47s or AR-15s that could kill anywhere from 45 to 600 people a minute.

Would the founders have thought it so important that the peoples’ right, when not serving as militia members, to keep and bear such lethal weapons not be infringed?

I do wonder.

In Case You Hadn’t Noticed . . . .

We are having a Constitutional Crisis.

I said in one of my early posts I would not write about politics because I wanted my blog to be positive and inviting to all, not just to some who might share my point of view. For the most part, I’ve stuck to my word.

But now is a time for all of us, regardless of political position, to pay attention to what is happening in our country.

We have a president who is claiming Congress has no right to investigate him for anything whatsoever, who is defying congressional subpoenas for anyone in his administration, present or past, and claiming he is above congress and, indeed, above the law.

The last time a president tried being above the law, it was 1972-74, his name was Richard Nixon (“when the president does it, that means it is not illegal“), and he had to resign rather than be impeached. That was a constitutional crisis, and we survived it.

Now we are in another. Let’s hope we survive this one, too.

When the nation’s founders convened in 1787 to craft the U.S. Constitution, they created three branches of government and articulated their powers in the first three articles of the Constitution. Article 1 defines the Legislative branch (Congress), Article 2 the Executive branch (the President), and Article 3 the Judicial branch (the Supreme Court).

It is no accident the founders defined the powers of Congress in Article 1 of the Constitution. There was vigorous debate about whether the Executive branch should be supreme over Congress or vice versa. It was assumed George Washington would be the first president, but some wanted Washington to be president for life, or even reign as a king, with congress subordinate to the monarchy, as in England.

Other delegates, mindful of King George III’s tyranny over the colonies that led to the revolution, rejected a monarchy and argued for a republic, with Congress having power and oversight over the Executive branch.

The advocates of congressional oversight over the Executive branch won. Thus, Congress and its powers are articulated in the first article of the Constitution, and the powers of the President in the second article. The president’s term of office is four years, and the president’s principal duties are to see that the laws Congress passes are faithfully executed and to preserve, defend, and protect the Constitution.

The founders foresaw the possibility of a rogue president. That is why the Constitution gives Congress oversight and impeachment powers over the President, but does not give comparable powers to the President over Congress. Congress is answerable only to the people, through elections. The President is answerable to Congress. Deadlocks between Congress and the Executive are to be settled by the Supreme Court.

In the last two years, this president has attempted to turn the Constitution on its head, with the President having ultimate authority over the Congress and all activities of government. He has even said–supposedly jokingly– it would be a good thing if he were president for life.

From the beginning of his presidency he has expressed admiration for authoritarian dictators. He tried many times in many ways to stop the Special Counsel’s investigations into Russia’s influence in the vote that elected him. He now claims that investigation is closed, that it exonerated him, and that Congress has no right to further investigate him or his administration. Thus he refuses to recognize any congressional requests or subpoenas for more testimony or records, and he now says he will refuse to work with Congress on any legislation as long as it is investigating him.

His latest act is to authorize an investigation into the origin of the Special Counsel’s investigation and to declassify all classified intelligence information so that his attorney general can build a case that the investigation into his election was treason.

If this president’s attempt to exert executive authority over Congress is unchecked, it is the path to tyranny. We have seen it happen in other countries many times before.

Benjamin Franklin was one of the delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. The convention deliberations were held in strict secrecy, and when the convention ended anxious citizens gathered outside Independence Hall to learn the results.

Reportedly, a friend of George Washington, Mrs. Elizabeth Powell, asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” Franklin answered, “A republic, madam, if you can keep it.” 

A republic–if you can keep it. Franklin’s words were never more true than they are today.

We are in a constitutional crisis. If you believe in prayer, you might want to pray for our country. If you believe in action, you might want to pressure your congressional representatives to do their duty to remove this out of control president.

MKJDKC Washington Addressing the Constitutional Convention. Image shot 1856. Exact date unknown.

My Earliest Memory: A Night in Tornado Alley

My earliest memory is from six days after my third birthday.

I am with other people in a dark cellar, lit only by a small window high on one wall. Someone is holding me up to the window, where I see nothing but dim grey light outside with shadowy objects blowing by.

It is just a brief image. For years I didn’t know if it was a real memory, or a dream.

I know now it is a real memory.

It was April 9, 1947, in Woodward, Oklahoma. I was with my mother, father, and older sister in the cellar of our house, and we were in the middle of an F5 tornado. My sister has told me it happened like this:

If you have lived in Oklahoma, you know that the wind blows all the time there. All the time. It’s a plains state. On this April evening my father noticed the wind had suddenly stopped. He went outside, assessed the still air, and looked up at a strange, greenish sky. Oklahoma is located in the middle of what is known as Tornado Alley. If you grow up in Oklahoma, as my father did, you come to know what that sudden lack of wind and greenish-colored sky means. He came in the house saying we should go down to the cellar.

So down into the cellar we went. Shortly after, at 8:42 pm, the F5 tornado struck Woodward without warning.

Back then there were no tornado warning systems as there are today. So we did not know that this tornado was part of a series of five or six tornadoes spawned by a super cell in the Texas Panhandle. They made a track up through the Texas Panhandle, into northwest Oklahoma, and ended in southeast Kansas, leaving a deadly path of destruction. The strongest and deadliest of these tornadoes was the F5 that struck Woodward, population 5,500.

To this day the 1947 Woodward tornado is still the deadliest in Oklahoma history, and the sixth deadliest in U.S. history.  It was reportedly two miles wide when it hit Woodward. It reduced much of the town to rubble, killed over 80 people, and injured 1,000 more. All in a town of 5,500.

Our family survived uninjured and our house undamaged. We were just outside the tornado’s path.

That night, after the tornado passed, and for the next several days afterward my father went out with other uninjured survivors to look for the dead and help the injured. As he worked he took black and white photos of the devastated town.

The map and photos at the bottom of this post are from the 1947 Woodward tornado, but they are not my father’s pictures. His photos were a treasured part of our family history, but after our mother’s death my sister and I could not find them in the family albums at the house. We don’t know what happened to them.  Our mother was also a native Oklahoman with a strong sense of state history, and we think she may have donated them to the Oklahoma Historical Society. A generous gift from her to the society’s museum, but a disappointment for her daughters.

Since then I’ve found photos of the 1947 Woodward tornado online, and the pictures here are a sample of them. They are mementos of my first memory and a major event in my life’s history, but it is not the same as having the ones from our father’s camera.

Peace and Joy,

Marjorie Beck

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Path of the April 9 1947 Tornadoes, starting in northeastern Texas and ending in southwestern Kansas.

Some Post-Father’s Day Thoughts About My Father

Before June ends, I’d like to write about my father. This will be a long post.

I didn’t think much of my father when I was growing up. I wanted a strong father, and he was a weak one. I considered him weak because my mother was always the dominant parent. I considered him uncultured because, even though he was a college graduate, he sounded like an uneducated hick to me with his “them old boys” and other such countryisms.

I didn’t find him particularly handsome;  I thought he looked like Dagwood, minus the hair shocks. Also like Dagwood, he fell asleep easily and a lot. I was mostly ashamed of him.

Here’s some truth I’ve since learned about my father.

He was an alcoholic, although he was not drinking by the time I came along. He did not drink while he courted my mother, so she did not know she was marrying an alcoholic. She found out quickly after they were married when my father would go on week-end benders with friends from work. Since I never saw my father drinking, I did not know about his alcoholism until my mother explained, long after he died, what their marriage was like while he was drinking. That made me understood a little better why she was the strong one in the family.

My father was born in Oklahoma, but his father’s people came from Tennessee. His grandfather had fought on the Confederate side in the Civil War. His mother was virulently racist. So my father inherited the usual southern baggage of racism and white privilege. He used the N-word. I wasn’t bothered much by that then because there was a lot of racism in Oklahoma, and I heard the N-word a lot. But I never heard him say it with malice, and I never heard him speak unkindly to black people, or for that matter, to anyone.

He was, in fact, a gentle, caring man. He loved my mother and my sister and me dearly, but I did not see or appreciate that at the time. He spanked me a few times for transgressions, but only because my mother made him do it, and I could tell his heart was not in it.

As a child, I saw how he cried when our cocker spaniel Lucky died. Much later, in 1968,  my ex-husband and I eloped to get married after completing our masters degrees in English at the University of Oklahoma. I was 24; he was 25. My mother was with my older sister at that time, helping after the birth of my sister’s second daughter. My father was at home. I called my mother first to tell her I was married, and you would have thought I had said I just robbed a bank and killed the tellers. She chewed me out royally.

I then called my father at home, half-expecting more of the same. His first words were “Well, bless your heart.” I almost cried. I wanted to kiss him for that kindness. My mother’s love was conditional; my father’s was unlimited.

He had a fine mind. He was an avid reader. As a geologist, he knew and taught us about  rocks.  Hearing his down-home speech as a child, I dismissed him as a rube. Later, once at a summer music camp, once in college, I received two letters from him, admonishments for things I had failed to do or had done and shouldn’t have. I knew my mother made him write,  but those letters were an awakening.

He had beautiful, strong handwriting. His grammar, spelling, and punctuation were impeccable. And he knew how to deliver a scolding that was firm, yet did not make me feel attacked as a person or unloved.  My mother could have learned a lot from him.

Those letters were the beginning of my reassessment of him.

Like me, my father had depression. His depression did not manifest in sadness or a need for social isolation. On the contrary, he was usually a sunny, gregarious person. He enjoyed people. He laughed easily. He liked a story or a joke.

His depression was about a lifelong low energy that manifested in difficulty staying with projects to completion and a lack of ambition that led him away from activity and toward the couch or chair for a nap. I can’t count the number of hobbies he took up and then dropped. I can’t count the number of times I saw him nodding off in a chair.

Nodding off on the job was what got him fired. He was a petroleum geologist, starting at Sinclair Oil Company as an oil scout just out of college, and ending as a desk geologist in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Sinclair was the only company he had ever worked for, and he was laid off, actually, rather than fired. The oil business in Oklahoma was in an economic downturn. Sinclair had to let people go. My father had been sleeping at his desk for years, and they had tolerated it in the good times, but they couldn’t afford to be so tolerant in a business downturn.  Sinclair laid him off just before he would have qualified for a pension.

This happened while I was in high school. We were living in the university town of Norman, just south of Oklahoma City where my father commuted daily to work. After he was laid off he kept going to Oklahoma City every day for several months before he admitted to my mother he’d been laid off. A combination of wounded pride and cowardice, I suppose.

After that my father managed to scrape together a few temporary jobs, but he never worked full-time again. Our mother’s teaching job at University School  was our only reliable income.  Money was tight for us from then on. A big strain on an already strained family.

I’m happy to say there is a happy ending to the story. My mother was asked to join the faculty at a small college in Chickasha, not far from Norman. She got better pay, and a title. My father discovered, and stuck to, the joys of vegetable gardening. In time he qualified for social security.  Then my mother retired with a nice pension and her social security, and they became more comfortable financially. They bought a small RV, started exploring the country, and gradually fell in love again.

In 1981, at age 75, my father died suddenly in an RV campground in Jackson Hole, Wyoming  He and my mother had just visited me and my then-husband in Oregon before they left for Jackson Hole. It was a good visit. They were obviously happy. When I got the phone call from my mother she was crying, and I cried, too.

He had been a good man, and now I knew it.

Growing up I thought my father and I had nothing in common. Now I realize how I am like him:

  • I got his big, blue eyes.
  • I got his love of rocks and geology.
  • I got his love of reading.
  • I got his intellect and curiosity.

These are all good things.

I also got:

  • his depression gene, and specifically, his low energy
  • his difficulty sustaining interest in projects once started
  • his genes for alcohol and other addictions. He smoked cigarettes most of his life until he finally had to quit because of pneumonia and emphysema. I started sneaking his cigarettes when I was thirteen. I smoked on and off for the next 50 years, and I lost track of the times I tried to quit before I finally did it.

These are not-so-good things.

But all in all: Thank you, Daddy. You were a sweet and gentle soul, and I’m proud to be your daughter.

Thank you for reading my blog.

Marjorie Beck

Politics

When I introduced my blog I said politics was one the topics I might be writing about. Well, I mostly  lied. I think the current political climate in our nation is too toxic and painful to write about. I would like to offer more positive posts. I will, however, write about our  political history from time to time, a topic I find intensely interesting .

     History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

This adage has been popularly attributed to Mark Twain,  but there  is little evidence he actually said it. Whoever said it, it is very, very true.

Thank you for reading my blog.

Marjorie Beck

 

 

Welcome to my blog!

Here we go, world. This is a blog about my 74 years of living with depression, but also about lots of other things:  My life’s journey, my passions, my opinions on whatever I want to share: reading, writing (2 drawer novels), helping others with their writing (BA and MA in English, freelance proofreader and editor), history, politics, music (amateur flutist), Okie pride, cats, dogs, being in love, being in platonic heterosexual relationships, supporting same-sex relationships, our gun culture, our racist history, our dying planet. Just to name a few, , , ,

This is my first entry, and I plan to post about once a week.  If you like what you read, follow my blog and you’ll get all my posts.  Comments and likes are appreciated.

Stay tuned. Marjorie Beck